I decided to write this today, to get pumped for some get-yo-mind-right self-prescribed suffering on Long's Peak tomorrow...
I had a few days in one week off from school and the kids were at g-ma's house. We climbed Mt. Elbert as a training run earlier in the week. Time for a Becky Special, alright. This one didn't seem all that bad, since we got several days to complete the mission instead of cramming everything into one, which would be a normal BS...
So I've been lusting after Snowmass for years. It's got a permanent snowfield on it. I..Love...Snow. I love crampons, ice axes, glissading, everything. I even love kicking steps...so usually I lead and do most of them since Chad does not love snow. He's in love with that slut - rock. It also takes some serious mileage to get up there. Bonus. Darwin keeps the faint of heart back in Denver. It's an 8-9 mile approach UP to snowmass lake at the base of the climb. This, even for our delusions of grandeur, was too much to bite in a one-day, so we decided to backpack in with our camping gear and snow climb gear and fishing gear to see what it's all about up there.
We left early Friday morning, thinking we were going to zip right out I-70 and down into Aspen. Right out the gate we got a a visit from Officer Fattypants state trooper in Golden Gate Canyon. Not the start out the gate we were hoping for. We were talking and I was not paying attention to speed AT ALL, which probably means I was going about 55 in a 35. We then promptly discovered that in the transition from me to Chad paying the bills when I started school, that the 4Runner had not been registered nor did we have our current insurance card. Lovely, just lovely. He gave us a break on the speeding since somehow I've managed to stay out of too much vehicular trouble here in CO, but I now have a court date for the end of September for which I will have to miss an afternoon of classes. After some brief arguing about that we went on our way. I-70 went smoothly, but I forgot how annoying Rte 82 is and it seemed to take FOREVER. We both agreed to take independence pass on the way home and that it would probably be faster. I think we started hiking somewhere between 11am-12pm.
We are not used to carrying 45-50 lbs of crap, and Chad has literally no hips...so backpacking for more than a couple miles is rough. I was feeling the weight, but held up ok. Chad was suffering for the last few miles, but we managed to get up there with some time to have some dinner and fish a little. For me, this is the most memorable time since Chad and I took our first backpacking steps into Yosemite NP in 1997 that I have felt just overwhelmed by the beauty of a place and intense thankfulness for being alive and out there with someone I love. After the first few miles out of the parking lot, this is serious backcountry. The weather was great. Who could ask for more? Well, I could ask for better pictures but turns out neither of us is very good taking pics with the Kodak Playsport which we bought last year to be our trip cam...
First you go through a few miles of gorgeous giant aspen trees (the way they should be)...Then you get to the pine forest. Then the beautiful river full of dumb fish/logjam. Then the big push uphill. Then the mosquitos and ticks. THEN Snowmass Lake...awe-inspiring to say the least.
In spots the trail was being consumed by the forest...
First glimpse of the beast (the point is N. Snowmass, Mt. Snowmass is the hump behind it):
This is supposed to be about 5 miles in, but as you can see, we had a ways to go.
Another problem is, I alternated video with pics, and some of the more exciting sights got video instead of pics...and we're really bad at shooting video...but here's a cool spot (we'll see if this works):
We got there and were surprised at how many people were there since we only saw two people all day coming up - probably 15-20 up there and all the more cozy camp spots were taken. We forgot that backpacking is a sport in itself and this lake is a stop on a popular circuit that links to the Maroon Bells drainage. We picked anything that looked flat, turned out to be a great tent spot, except for the neighbors who stayed up all night smoking pot, playing music on a radio, talking and singing loudly and generally pissing all the climbers who had to get up at 4am off. Chad was feeling pretty dumpy, close to a bonk, so we pumped him some water and made some gatorade and he sat and drank while I set up the tent, etc. I knew he was feeling really bad when he flat out quit fishing about an hour later. Now that's serious...Luckily he felt better during the night because we had to climb in the morning. 5 miles, 3,100 vertical. Piece of cake! Then we were going to pack out.
In the evening we had surveyed the route from camp. We were very surprised at the lack of snow. We thought since it was such an epic snow year that the route would still be substantially covered. But only the top half had snow. Ok, well, that's a good compromise since Chad and snow don't get along. Everything started out good. We got up, I had some coffee (essential) and we got out of camp at about 5am. The hike around the lake was a lot longer than we thought, it's a damn big lake! Hit the scree field about 5:45am, it wasn't that bad, except for one little section and we found out later that we could have easily avoided that and did so on the way down.
On to the snow. Here's our *classic* tard moment that extends the day...we decide we're going to shoot straight for the saddle between Hagerman and Snowmass and then run the ridge to the top because we both think that's what it said in the Roach book and that's what it looked like on the topo map too. WELL, that ended up being a little off and added about 3 hours to our day. The route was to go to the point RIGHT of the saddle. The funny things about this: a) the actual route was printed on the back of the topo map but neither of us looked. b) It is clear that we both need a lesson on reading a topo map.
We were having a great time on the snowfield and we finally got to the saddle. Then we had the ridge to deal with, which we of course thought was completely doable since we thought it was the route...we traversed across this ridge. I was very tenative since I had my large pack on with weight and also because a kid died on the mountain a few days prior due to rockslide. Yes, they were all loose. So we got to the knife-edge area and decided to bail our in the snow couloir below instead of risking it.
SO, we ended up having quite a tour de Snowmass...our route up is red, down is green, the approximate standard route is blue, little red flag on the summit. Sorta blurry, but the best overall pic we have for the upper route...its a zoom from down at camp. We sat for a while on the snowfield contemplating whether to go for it or not. We were tired. But, we ate some synthetic food and decided to pay the price and go. We couldn't decide the best route of attack once we got going up though. Didn't want to cliff out again. Once you get up to the ridge there's another 45 min-1 hr of scrambling on really loose class 3 on the back side of the ridge traversing over to the summit. Also anxiety-inducing because that's where the accident happened just a few days before, and I had been leading most of the way on the snow and was pretty spent at that point to be doing scrambling. We dropped my pack on the route to free up what juice I had left. Chad lead me across the climb like the rock jock that he is.
So we finally made it, I have no idea what time it was...12? 1? We knew it wasn't any speed record, that's for sure. We spent a few minutes up at the top and more closely observed just how loose this mountain is. It's just a pile of giant boulders balancing so delicately. You can see daylight through the pile in spots. The original plan was to take a jog over to N. Snowmass too, since it's on the unofficial 14er list, but that was going to be several more hours of scrambling so we scratched that. Sort of a fail, but we didn't want to tempt fate and we were glad we persevered to get the main summit, so we left rather quickly.
I usually hate pics of myself, but I had better put this one in...sorta dig it. You know it's a real smile when you weren't even looking. heh.
We found a nice drop-in through the big cornice near the summit (green line above) and near my pack to cut the traverse on the ridge short and glissaded most of the way down the snowfield. A welcome bout of fun after all the work! But I was naughty and glissaded with my crampons on...big no-no..and my left leg caught and rolled up underneath me once. Popped a ligament in my ankle. No biggie, ow for 10 minutes then fine, must have been the last little bit of that ligament left. Thank God my knee held, but it was pretty sore after that. Then we went down the easy way through the grassy part instead of the rocks.
We did have to cross the waterfall and go down the lower half of the scree, however, and that's when I started feeling ick coming on. I started to lose coordination on the sliders and took a hard spill at one point on the scree when my pole stuck in a hole, but my down parka that was stuffed in the sleeping bag compartment of my pack broke my fall and saved my low back from a nasty pointy rock. Instead of bruised/broken pelvis I landed on a pillow. Talk about luck. These days on the Becky Specials, I am much more cognizant of how I am feeling at all times since our little incident at the Crestones when I just about checked out. So, we slowed down, I drank as much water as I could, and we finally got down and got me some gatorade. Bonk avoided.
We knew we were too tired and it was too late to pack out, so we decided to stay the night again even though we were low on food. I felt better after a couple hours of lying in the tent and eating and drinking. We ate most of what was left and headed over for some fishing. That lake is FULL of fish and everyone, especially the dry-fly-fishermen were catching a lot of beautiful Brookies and a few Rainbows. We had a good night's sleep with some Vitamin I and the idiots were gone. Possibly the best sleep I've ever had above 10,000 ft. Packed up casually in the morning for the long hike out.
We knew what we were up against this time, so we paced ourselves...well, plus it was downhill. We stopped at the logjam area for some great fishing. Now THOSE were dumb fish! I could see us coming up here someday just for fishing alone...nah, who am I kidding? I still gotta tag N. Snowmass someday!
We got about half way down and things were starting to really hurt. Turned up the speed and got out as fast as we could. We were satisfied since we caught two groups in the parking lot that had left camp about 45 minutes before us AND we had stopped for fishing. We drove over independence pass into Leadville instead on the way home. I do think it was faster than 82, and I always forget how sweet it is. Seems like one should drive over Indy pass once a year on a nice day if not just for the hell of it.
Ok packing and getting a cat nap before my 2am date with Long's. I think I may try for Storm Peak and/or Mt. Lady Washington too. If I feel shitty, maybe just Mt Lady Washington or just Storm Peak? We'll see how it goes with two workouts today and none sleep, eh?
**SLEEP WHEN YOUR DEAD!!!!**